Gaydamak, Former Pensioners Set Sights on Cabinet

The chairman of the Social Justice party, Arcadi Gaydamak, said yesterday he would be pleased to be the minister of diaspora affairs in the Olmert government. Speaking in English at a press conference he called to announce the establishment of his first power base in the Knesset, he told reporters, "I have a great deal of experience in the area of Jewish communities in the world."

The members of Gaydamak's new faction - formerly Pensioners Party lawmakers - were seated alongside him: MKs Moshe Sharoni, Elhanan Glazer and Sara Marom Shalev. Sharoni, chairman of the new faction, said the Pensioners Party had "betrayed the pensioners," adding that he had seen the Pensioners Party as "the home of Israel's pensioners, but unfortunately this house changed for the worse before my eyes and the eyes of my friends in the past year: principles are no longer principles." Sharoni called Gaydamak "the leading and outstanding social leader in Israel."

The signed agreement with Gaydamak gives the three breakaway lawmakers a parliamentary future and perhaps even a ministerial one, if Gaydamak realizes his plan to become, as he put it, "a significant force" in the next Knesset.

Sharoni, Glazer and Marom Shalev have been promised three of the five top slots on the new party's list. Sharoni would land the faction's most senior cabinet post if and when it joins the coalition.

Gaydamak also pledged to fund the wages of the 22 staff members the three MKs will employ, at a cost of tens of thousands of shekels a month.

The press conference was held at Gaydamak's well-appointed offices in Jerusalem, which were festooned with flags of the state and of the city, flowers and a giant photograph of Menachem Begin. The flags apparently showed that Gaydamak's dream to be minister of diaspora affairs is no greater than his dream to be Jerusalem's next mayor.

So as not to impair that dream, the new faction's basic principles include a clause that the status quo on state and religious matters will be preserved.

Gaydamak did not reveal details of his new party's political platform. To the new immigrant public, which is interested in his stand regarding civil marriage, he said, "We will not decide for the rabbinate."